Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sticky Monsters

Sticky MonstersSticky Monsters by John Kenn Mortensen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Kenn Mortensen's first collection of his macabre drawings, all done on post-it-notes, will hold a place of prominence on my artbook/graphic novel shelf. It's not a graphic novel, per se, but Mortensen's visual vignettes each tell a story, usually by presenting a knife's-edge moment of suspense, leaving the viewer wondering what has just happened, and what is about to happen, between his cast of monsters (from the ectoplasmic to the cthulhoid to the ghoulish) and their foils (usually children). The washed out yellow of each page, combined with the artist's fine linework, gives each piece a pseudo-sepia-tone that is perfect for the archaic dress and minimalist, yet prosaic, settings of each of these drawings. If you're an Edward Gorey fan who wants a little more "bite," then this is the perfect book for you. And while Mortensen's pieces do point back to a simpler age (e.g., Klimt's "Tree of Life" is evoked throughout), the subtle emotional complexity of these artworks points to something altogether new. Much of Mortensen's work is available online, however, one must see these drawings in this book in order to appreciate what a fine artifact the book itself is.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

OSR Giveaways!

For you old-school renaissance gamers, there are two wonderful blogs giving away OSR gifts for the holidays, but don't wait - get over there quickly!

First is the wonderful Tenkar's Tavern's 12 days of OSR Christmas. Lots of people have put up items for this randomly-chosen giveaway, including yours truly - yes, there's a hardcover copy of Heraclix & Pomp in there somewhere!

Second is Channel Zero's giveaway of several issues of Crawl magazine.

Stop reading this! Go get your name in the comments! Win stuff!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

No Exit

No ExitNo Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a function of pure entertainment, Sartre's No Exit is brilliant. Ironically, Sartre uses almost-pure dialogue to "show not tell" the dilemma faced by Garcin, Inez, and Estelle, three "absentees" (a euphemism for "the dead") locked into a room, condemned to be together for eternity. Each has arrived here for different reasons, but all three possess qualities that bring out the worst in the others. Rather than the traditional hellish tropes of horned demons and hell-fire, this play evokes more special tortures - the ability to see into the world of the living only long enough to know what other living beings are saying about you since you've been "absent," the pressure of having three personalities who delight in interfering with each potential pairing (and the promise of solace that might mean), and the exquisite pains of honest self-doubt.

I had hoped to take this as a "primary source" of Sartre's philosophy, but perhaps I've got it all backwards. I am familiar with the tenets of existentialism that Sartre espoused, but the philosophical gloss that is given in No Exit seems to be as much a veneer as a core underpinning.

That said, one need not think too hard to realize that this is an excruciatingly uncomfortable examination of human nature in all its banality. The characters at once seem likable, or at least their character flaws seem excusable, initially. As the play goes on, though, we begin to see each person's flaws magnified, as with a glass, until the full impact of their crimes and selfishness are realized. Soon, the audience feels shame for having excused or even liked the absentees, with a full realization that any of them (the audience, that is) could be seen as Garcin, Inez, or Estelle, or possibly even a conglomeration of any two or all three.

Not for those who don't like looking in the mirror. Or even for those who do. Prepare to be discomfited!

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Here We Go Again!

My publisher is giving away 10 signed hardcover copies of my novel Heraclix and Pomp at Goodreads. Perhaps you'd like to enter? Of course you'd like to enter. Go enter! Now! Where?

Right here.

Good luck! And here's the cover image to whet your appetite:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Creativity Games at Mystery to Me Books

Joanne Berg, owner of Mystery to Me books in Madison, was so kind as to host an event with me as reader, game master, and general entertainer. After a very short introductory reading of three of the main characters in Heraclix and Pomp, we all took part in a series of creativity games including the surrealist game Exquisite Cadaver, the Oulipo game N+7, an Aguirre exclusive inspired by Michael Moorcock's outstanding book Death is No Obstacle, and a whodunit game with a super-secret source that I cannot reveal unless I immediately kill you. And no one wants that!

What people do want, however, is pictures. So here's a picture taken after the games were all through:

We had a great time and laughed the cold away. If you felt a pulse of warmth in Madison last Friday night, you're welcome. We hope to melt all the snow and drive Winter away for good next time, but we'll need your help! Thanks to Joanne and to our dedicated little crowd. I can't wait to do this again!

PS: For you author and bookstore owner types, yes, Joanne sold several books that night and a few more the next day. You see? Fun does pay!

Luxury Arts of the Renaissance

Luxury Arts of the RenaissanceLuxury Arts of the Renaissance by Marina Belozerskaya
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the first discoveries I made as an undergraduate Bachelor of Humanities student is that there isn't enough time in the world to learn everything you would want to learn about art. So, for three years I soaked up as much as I could, studying painting technique, critiquing cinema, memorizing music pieces, learning a bit about dance and a lot about history and the philosophy of aesthetics.

One thing I did not learn was that, despite our modern focus on Renaissance painting and sculpture, those who lived at that time considered these "high arts" to be . . . well, not so high as we think of them. While no one can discount the marvel of innovation that Renaissance sculptors and painters brought into the world of art, Belozerskaya argues that, for those contemporary with the art that was being produced, painting and sculpture played second fiddle in the royal courts.

One could easily guess that precious metals and precious stones were valued highly by the nobility for their portability and their ability to maintain worth over time. What might not be so obvious is the high esteem in which tapestry, decorated armor, and music (written, sung, played, or even danced to) were held. Belozerskaya uses a series of contemporary sources to prove the thesis and does so convincingly. One of the more intriguing uses of evidence is the use of Charles Le Brun's tapestry Visit of Louis XIV to the Gobelins Workshope, 15 October 1667, which shows nothing other than Louis XIV shopping for tapestries at said workshop. A brilliant bit of meta-advertising on the part of the Gobelins workshop, no?

The book itself is a bit of luxury. It is illustrated throughout with beautiful color photos of tapestries, etched armor, automata, serving vessels, and even a bejeweled crystal marten head, which was ostensibly attached to a fur and worn to special occasions. PETA would not have survived long in the Renaissance.

And what is the point of all of this spectacle? It is to stun the senses of both subject and foreign dignitary alike, to impress upon the mind that whatever noble is enveloping you in this carnival of earthly delights is powerful enough to ensure stability and shelter from whatever vicissitudes might present themselves. "Don't worry," the possessor of these wonders seems to say, "you are in good hands. You're safe with me".

In perfect academic fashion, Belozerskaya leaves her thesis for the end, though it would have been nice to know at the very beginning of the book. So here you are:

"Single objects preserved in museums today, be they tapestries or gold statuettes, suits of armor or illustrated books, cannot bring back to life the richly textured procession of kings, courtiers, and citizens decked out in their finery, slowly moving through streets noisy with excited crowds, the sounds of trumpets, and the ringing voices of actors . . . The sensory overload brought on by overlapping layers of luxury creations was part of the alchemy that marked the realm of the great and distinguished momentous events from mundane routines.”

Ironically, this sumptuous feast for the eyes and mind can be yours for absolutely free as a google book. Google: building democracy one book at a time.

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Addendum: Other links to Getty's fine books and how you can use them for nefarious purposes can be found here.

Friday, November 28, 2014

There Is No Lovely End

There Is No Lovely EndThere Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though this is not true, I picture every scene, in my mind's eye, as taking place at night. Is it the dreamlike quality of the writing? The Gothic accouterments of dark lace and midnight-blue frock coats? The absence of a veil, for some, between the living and the dead? Or the morbid edge to the humor that threads through the dialogue and the plot itself? Like any great book, it is this and more. It is the fact that Templeton has set up clear guide posts that allow my brain (encased in my skull, away from the light) to fill in the interstices with shadow. I have been engulfed by this book.

Of course, when I mention gallows humor and the dead, you will immediately think of director Tim Burton's work. This is a fair beginning, but only a beginning. There is much more going on between the pages here. There is pathos.

In particular there are two of the main plot threads that delve down into a level of emotion - serious emotion - that lifts the work beyond mere Burton-esque fare: 1) Hester Garlan's quest to kill her son Nathan in order to wrench back from him the gift of seeing and speaking with the dead and, 2) the haunting of Sarah Winchester.

There is a great deal to laugh about in this book. But these two narratives cause the reader not frisson, but an discomfiture that twists the heart. The psychological and physical abuse that Sarah Winchester is subjected to makes one cringe and yearn for her release. And when the hope of release seemingly comes, it is all the more devastating to see that the abuse has not ended, but merely undergone a transformation. It is still there, and Sarah Winchester is haunted by it.

Take also Nathan Garlan's predicament: Hester tried, after the unwanted child's birth, to sell him off to a man who was not his father. After spending his youth in a hellish orphanage, the young man grows to become one of the most respected mediums in the country. Little does he know that the woman who gave him life wants to take it from him again. And let's not forget that the boy, now a man, has a father, as well, a ne'er-do-well haunted by the (rather stupid) ghost of his own brother.

I would spoil the fun and the wonder of this book if I were to reveal more. It is beautifully written, well-plotted, and meaningful. Templeton breaks Burton's boundaries and expands them. This is a dark and vivacious work that, ironically, breathes new life into some of the old, tired tropes of Gothic literature and dark cinema. It is absolutely worth your time and your hard-earned cash. There is no lovely end to the praise I can heap upon this book. Go buy this little ebony box of mysteries and make it your own.

PS: In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I know the author. No, she did not gift me a copy of this book - I bought it with my own cash. She did not ask for a review, nor did I promise such a thing. What you see in this review is all that it seems - high praise for a highly praiseworthy work of fiction.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Angry Candy

Angry CandyAngry Candy by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had a very interesting conversation with editor Dave Hartwell at the World Fantasy Convention. We both agree that Ellison is a completely venomous human being with low standards of behavior who thinks he is much smarter than he really is. We also agree that when his game is on, he hits home runs. This is the case with Angry Candy, the best collection of his more experimental work. I would definitely rank it among the top twenty short story collections I've ever read, maybe even in the top ten. One thing that is not in question: the story "The Paladin of the Last Hour" is one of the best pieces of short speculative fiction ever written. Ever.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

World Fantasy, How Do I Love You? Let Me Count the Ways

  1. Finishing the draft of Solistalgia the day before I left for DC.
  2. I don't live in Illinois, Indiana, or Ohio, I only have to drive through them to get to you.
  3. I used to live in Pennsylvania. It is still beautiful, especially this time of year. Hail, Pitt!
  4. NPR had a bit on a magicians' library that I listened to on part of my drive. It was fascinating and gave me grist for the next novel.
  5. The Educated Goldfish.
  6. I don't have to live with DC traffic.
  7. There was a biker-veteran convention (Rolling Thunder) at the same time. How cool is that?
  8. Lots of books in the book bag. One of which I actually wanted!
  9. The World Fantasy Convention passport, which shrunk down what is usually an excessively-oversized program booklet into something literally the size of a passport. Well-played, WFC committee, well-played. 
  10. Ghost Stories Without Ghosts panel with Patty Templeton, et al.
  11. Patty signed my copy of her book with a ghost!
  12. Scribe Agency authors going to dinner after flashing devil signs, a-like so: 
  13. Many good foods. Indian, Thai, Fillipino, Japanese. Thanks for the weight-gain, WFC.
  14. Jeffrey Ford's reading. Wow.
  15. Watching the Badgers beat Purdue with Jim Minz. Go Bucky!
  16. Having some stranger at the Thai restaurant see my Badgers sweatshirt and say (with a smile) "Your team just got lucky". My response: "Oh, you're a Purdon't fan?" It's all in good fun, but seriously, they let these people into our nation's capital?
  17. Author signing, where I sold a few copies of Heraclix and Pomp and learned (directly from the reviewer) about this very, very positive review.
  18. Reconnecting with old friends whom I haven't seen for years, such as: Jeffrey Ford, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, John Picacio, Jim Minz, Paula Guran, John Lawson, and a bevy of others. So many that I'm sure I've missed a dozen of you (for which I profusely apologize).
  19. Reconnecting with those I've seen not so long ago: John Klima, John O'Neill, Patty Templeton, Mark Teppo, Darin Bradley, Agent Kris, Jenn Brissett, Becky Johnson, etc.
  20. Meeting those with whom I've had virtual relationships, but only now met in person; mostly editors who have published my work but whom I hadn't had the pleasure to meet in person until now: Mike Allen, Matthew Kressel, Sheila Williams, and others.
  21. Meeting new-to-me and very talented people like Matt Wuertz, Russ Linton, Jeremy Zerfoss, and so on. Special props to dinner with Matt and regaling each other with old D&D stories, laughing our fool heads off the whole time. The waitresses didn't quite know what to do with us, I don't think.
  22. Selling some books.
  23. Drooling over more rare books than I will ever be able to afford in my lifetime, viz., everything Arkham House ever published and every hardcover put out by Tartarus Press.
  24. Very, very late nights where I was the only sober person within a three mile radius (I don't drink, but people I hang out with drink quite a bit).
  25. My sister-in-law and her husband, who let me crash at their place and come in at very odd hours of the morning.
  26. Everyone in attendance at WFC, except for that douchebag who thought it was okay to conduct a live interview in the freaking writer's retreat room that was reserved as a quiet space specifically to allow writers to WRITE. Some of us were actually in there to write, not to here your condescending drivel about how badly-behaved con-goers have become. Puke.
  27. Notre Dame, for losing their game. Jim and I high-fived each other more for that than for the Badgers' winning. I love WFC: I hate the golden domers. No, seriously, I do.
  28. Seeing Vincent Villafranca's amazing sculptures in person, along with the other amazing art on display at the art show. Lust, lust, lust.
  29. Hearing that Sofia Samatar's outstanding novel, A Stranger in Olondria won the World Fantasy Award.
  30. Heard another great story on NPR which will also feed into my next novel, at least thematically. Maybe I should just entitle this one "Thanks, NPR"!
  31. Seeing a billboard as I entered Indiana that said "Remember: Always Wear Your Life Vest" and thinking "Right now? While I'm driving?"
  32. Speeding, a lot, and not getting caught, which shaved about an hour off my travel time home.
  33. Listening to the radio as the Packers dismantled Da Bears.
  34. Avoiding Illinois drivers, who were on the other side of the road, coming back from pillaging my beloved Wisconsin one last time before winter sets in.
  35. Seeing home all safe and sound.
  36. Only one regret: Having missed the Demystifying Crowd Funding panel, because I had overslept that morning.
  37. Slowly remembering all the great things that I've forgotten that didn't make this list. Best World Fantasy Convention so far. Well done, WFC committee!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Away for a Spell

I will be away for a week at the World Fantasy Convention in Washington DC. I hope to do up a full report when I get back.

In other news, I have completed the draft of my space operatic science fiction novel, Solistalgia. I will be moving on to another project to give my brain some breathing room before I go back to do some thorough edits, as well as continuing on with my top-secret RPG project.

See you on the other side!

Playing Surreal Games at Mystery to Me Books

I love to write, I love Madison, and I love games! I'll be combining these three loves of mine at Mystery to Me books in Madison on Friday, December 5th, from 7-9 PM. The clientele there likes audience participation, and audience participation they shall have! We will be playing several surrealist games, all meant to expand creativity and foster strangeness and fun, using the text of Heraclix and Pomp as a jumping-off point. If you're in the area, stop in, warm up, buy a few books, and have a great time! I look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book UniverseSuper Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you love graphics, statistics, and comics, this is your book. Ever wonder who all has been, for example, an Avenger? It's here. Want to know the relative strength of Galactus versus Apocalypse? It's there, too. Need to know which comic book heroes are associated with Rodents? Check: from Atomic Mouse to Mighty Mouse to Squirrel Girl.

And it's not just all about the characters. There is an intriguing swirl-graph showing the increase in Comic-Con attendance, The Chris Ware Sadness Scale (from Jimmy Corrigan to Quimby the Mouse), relative height and ride length of 15 different roller-coasters associated with superheroes . . . you get the idea.

As one would expect, the book is Marvel- and DC Comics-heavy, but there is plenty in here from independent and smaller presses referenced, as well. I was glad to see this, as I made mine Marvel as a kid in the '70s (remember Spider Man on The Electric Company?), had a brief love affair with several indies in the mid-'90s (Mostly Grimjack, Albedo Anthropomorphics, and Konny and Czu), and have recently been roped back into the comic fold by such excellent series as Fatale, The Manhattan Projects, and Prophet. There seems to be a bit of a renaissance happening now, with some great titles out there. Give it ten years, and this book may need to be rewritten with an even stronger emphasis on the indies. I'll look forward to that volume, should it appear, as well.

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The Dying Earth

The Dying EarthThe Dying Earth by Jack Vance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's do some quick math. Jack Vance's The Dying Earth was originally published in 1950. I was born in 1969. I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, in earnest, in 1979. It is now 2014. On second thought, screw the math. You can plainly see that my reading of The Dying Earth is tardy, given that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson cited Vance's work as influences on the development of the Dungeons and Dragons game.

And how.

More than an influencer, The Dying Earth is a wholesale supplier of D&D wares. In the first story, "Turjan of Mir," we see something akin to alignment, the fact that wizards must memorize their spells from spellbooks, the limitation (which I always thought was a rule to add game balance - I was wrong) that mages can only memorize so many spells a day, and at least one spell that was almost lifted verbatim from Vance to Gygax and Arneson (the Excellent Prismatic Spray, which appears in D&D as "Prismatic Spray," unless it is cast by one of the wizards Bill or Ted, in which case it is the "Most Excellent Prismatic Spray, Dude").

Now, that's not to say that The Dying Earth is one long hack-and-slash D&D adventure. Far from it. Vance is a far more sophisticated writer than Gygax or even Arneson (who, in my humble opinion, is the better of the two - compare Arneson's wrting on his Blackmoor campaign with that of Gygax's Greyhawk campaign setting. Gygax had more stuff, Arneson had better original writing). So don't go in expecting a Choose Your Own Adventure. Vance is choosing the adventure for you, and his characters and their quests are meant to be read, not played. These characters, in these situations, would crumble in the hands of a lesser artist (like the 12 year old me that would have tried to create D&D stats for these characters and sent them on a killing spree through a non-descripts dungeon crawl).

I will admit that the first couple of stories were a bit trite. The thin plot devices and moralistic tales read more like a poorly-copied fairy tale than a good work of fantasy. I'd love to know the order these stories were written in, as they got better as the book progressed. By the end, they were outstanding.

The second-to-last story in the book, "Ulan Dhor," follows the journey of the titular novice sorcerer in his quest for the lost city Ampridatvir, once ruled by Rogol Domedonfors, a wizard of great power. Ulan Dhor is sent there by his mentor, Kandive, to recover the lost magic of Rogol Domedonfors by bringing together two tablets which, when combined, will restore the magical power that once held sway in the city. Along the way, he encounters a strange culture and even stranger magic - the magic of the ancients that once held sway before the sun began its slow death. One can see that this story might have influenced M. John Harrison's Viriconium or Jeffrey Ford's Well-built City.

The final, longest, and most compelling story, "Guyal of Sfere," follows another adventurer on a quest to find the Museum of Man to speak with the Curator, from whom Guyal wishes to gain knowledge. Again, the seeker travels into strange lands, encountering strange customs and cultures, in a story that is, at first, less about the magic (though magic does play a part) and more about the men and women Guyal meets in his journey. Only when Guyal and his new travelling companion, Shierl, make their way into the Museum of Man does magic play a major role. And this is strange, strange magic, of the kind that would fascinate nerds like me for decades to come. There is a hint of absurdism in the tale, which reinforces the bizarre feel of the story. Suffice it to say that we encounter one of the most disconcerting demons I have ever had the dis-pleasure of reading about - which is saying something, given my . . . particular . . . reading tastes. I could see this story influencing Gene Wolf's Book of the New Sun and, to some extent, Book of the Long Sun, which could make for some compelling historical analysis (of which I am not capable).

What started out as a not-particularly-spectacular read ended up as something excellent. I will be reading more of Vance's work, not because it's assigned reading for a class in Dungeons and Dragons history (for which I was really tardy), but because the writing in the last half of the book was excellent, the characters less shallow than much of modern fantasy, and the strangeness endearing to this strange reader.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Win a Free Audiobook of HERACLIX AND POMP! Express yourself!

Heraclix and Pomp is now available in audiobook format at Audible.com right here. The narrator, Brandon Massey, is a gentleman and a scholar. I had very pleasant interactions with him as we worked together on pronunciations of the many foreign and downright fantastical words in the book. He is an interesting fellow, as his bio indicates:

Brandon Massey comes from a classic theatrical background, having performed in many Shakespeare plays and having studied the classics in Greece. The long hours of meticulous study necessary for such endeavors is similar to the precision required in recording audiobooks. In addition to audiobooks, Brandon has narrated several documentaries and short films, along with performing in regional theatre. Most of the activities he does in his spare time have something to do with Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, and/or Carl Sagan.

In celebration of the release of the Heraclix and Pomp audiobook, I will be giving away a free copy of the audiobook. But "free" doesn't always mean "without effort". So here's the rub: I love art. I studied humanities as an undergraduate, which meant a lot of time getting very up close and personal to paintings, sculptures, and other forms of representation. I almost kissed a painting in a museum once (and had to explain myself to museum security, as a result - *blush*), not because I loved it, but because I got a little too close trying to see the brushstrokes in an effort to understand the artists technique. That's how much I love art. I get in trouble for art because I love it so much.

That said, there's no accounting for taste. And my taste might vary wildly from yours. But someone has to judge this thing, right? So I'll take the fall and be that guy. Here are the rules:

  1. Your artwork can be of any medium except dead humans . . . or dead animals, for that matter, unless they were already dead when you found them. Seriously, use pencil, paintbrush, clay, porcelain, digital, photography, macrame, WHATEVER . . . just be creative.
  2. The artwork must represent something to do directly with the novel. If you want to show your interpretation of Heraclix or Mowler or Von Graeb or whomever, that's fine. Maybe you're a wood carver and would rather do a representation of Pomp's bow and arrow. Perhaps you're a costume designer and want to cosplay a fly-devil. Or you're really into architecture and want to create a scale model of the Shadow Divan. Draw a cartoon of a scene from the book, sew Beelzebub's infernal apron, henna tattoo your hand to match Porchenskivik's own, whatever you like, so long as you can tie it directly to the book. Performance art and cinema is also encouraged, so long as it doesn't get you or me arrested. And if you want to venture into the musical arts or poetics, by all means, let's hear it!
  3. Tell me what it is. There are a lot of potential images in that book. They've already spilled from my brain on to the page, and middle age prevents me from remembering everything.
  4. Keep it PG-13 or cleaner, please. I'd like younger readers to enjoy this, as well.
  5. Submit your artwork to *forrestjaguirre*@*gmail.com* (remove the asterisks) or, if you're feeling particularly brave, paste a link to your art into the comments below.
  6. Remember that you keep all rights to your art. If I want to use it, I might ask to pay for the privilege, but otherwise, it is yours, not mine. Only mine to judge and enjoy. I do reserve the right to send out tweets and make a blog post about the winning art, because I'm certain your art will deserve some wide exposure!
  7. You will need an audible.com account to retrieve your prize. And I will need your email address, as well. I won't sell it, give it to anyone, or use it in any way outside of contacting you to let you know how to get your free audiobook.
  8. I will be taking entries until December 15th. This deadline is so that I can decide and notify the winner by Christmas day.

It's a $21.83 value, so I'm hoping to see that much value worth of art, at least. And, yes, I know how much original art goes for, so I'm not expecting a masterpiece. But if you insist . . .

I think that's it. If any of you legal watchdogs see something missing in the above rules, let me know and I'll fix it forthwith. Other than that, good luck and enjoy creating!



Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Gay 90's

Mark Ryden: The Gay 90'sMark Ryden: The Gay 90's by Mark Ryden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am an unabashed fan of Pop Surrealism (aka "Low Brow") art. Ryden is one of the most prolific and high-profile artists of the movement. His self-admitted goal in producing the work represented in The Gay 90's is to "pull the lowest of the low into the highest of the high" by reinterpreting the kitsch representations of the 1890's (most of which were actually realized in the 1920's) as surreal-renaissance-style paintings. There is a sense of the solemn, even the divine, in the paintings themselves, but with such a twisted absurdity as to be transgressive. The painting "The Parlor" is a good representation of Ryden's aesthetic, showing porcelain-skinned Victorian girls in a parlor featuring a curiosity cabinet (carefully-planned in every detail by Ryden, as evinced by a pre-painting sketch), a tuxedoed and top-hatted Death holding a tarot card, and a gigantic eye set atop an antiqued wooden post. The center of attention is an infant (the Christ? Difficult to say, though Ryden has representations of Christ throughout the rest of the book) holding a clock-cum-image-of-eternity - a swirling snail-shell clock surrounded by symbols from the Zodiac, along with a series of Chinese symbols (that, alas, I cannot interpret). Near the eye, a nude goddess figure sits atop an overly cheerful creature somewhere between a lamb, a polar bear, and a poodle. This mixture of a sacred mood overlaying a ridiculously kitsch menagerie of figures, is emblematic of Ryden's work.

Ryden's work can be found all over online, but this book is worth owning because of the many preliminary sketches, which show the evolution of Ryden's thoughts in the very act of creation, and because of the outstanding introductory essay, "Mark Ryden and the Transfiguration of Kitsch" by Amanda Erlanson. These provide an excellent introduction to Ryden, his work, and his place among the contemporary luminaries of Pop Surrealism.

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Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft (Locke & Key, #1)Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This has been on my TBR shelf for a while now (as have many other books), but I hesitated to pick this up, though I've had opportunity before, because I was afraid of being disappointed. Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft may be one of the coolest titles I've heard of in a long time. It's evocative, and I was worried that the evocation might go horribly awry.

My fears were unfounded.

I'll spare you the story - several other reviewer friends of mine have outlined the story more clearly than I can hope to do. Suffice it to say that Lovecraft is a place, not a person, Locke is a family, and Key refers to Keyhouse, a named structure in which much of the story takes place. You won't find any tentacled horrors in this story, however. Yes, there is a strong backbone of supernatural horror, but no creatures from the Lovecraft Mythos, so far. The horrors here are human, albeit *influenced* by seemingly other-world entities.

And it's the humanity of it all that makes this an outstanding graphic novel. The psychotic characters (there are a couple true psychos and quite a few borderline cases) are not just raving serial killers. They are humans with unmet needs. They are fragile. They are broken. And they break others.

The victims and heroes are also portrayed in a more believable way than most graphic novels I've read. They are real. You want to put your arm around them and give them a hug, to tell them that it's alright, that things are going to be okay.

But that would be a lie.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Machinery of Life

The Machinery of LifeThe Machinery of Life by David S. Goodsell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I passed 10th grade biology . . . barely.

My friend James and I had the two cutest girls in the class as lab partners. I can't remember their names, but they were both pretty gorgeous. I ended up in that lab group mostly because of James' charm and good looks. I was not particularly charming. I can prove it:

James and I hung out a fair amount. We had fun. You know, teenagers. So when it came time in our biology class to dissect pig fetuses, we had a good time with it. James made the incision and we had fun moving the pig into different . . . positions. One thing led to another and after a while we had the sliced-open pig dancing to Hello My Baby.

Problem is, its guts didn't want to stay inside.

And we had very slick formica tabletops.

So all kinds of innards spilled out during the chorus and splayed out across and off the tabletop, right into the laps of the girls in our lab group. They were not impressed.

Our teacher, who, it was rumored, was a cocaine addict (though no one could substantiate the claim), turned toward our table and shouted "James! Forrest! Get the hell out!"

So we did. We left the classroom and wandered the halls. I mean, it was kind of like permission, wasn't it?

The next day, we walked into the classroom and no sooner had we crossed the threshold than the teacher pointed at us and simply said "out"!

After a couple of days of this, he figured out that we were just wandering the halls, so for the rest of the semester, we were sent across the hall to spend time in another teacher's empty classroom. BIG mistake! We learned about science, alright. Like how many bags of gummy bears, stolen from the teacher's desk, did it take to fill up two teenage boys. Or whether the buoyancy of balloons on a windy day was enough to keep a teacher's metal in-basket aloft over the schoolyard (it wasn't). Or how many different topological forms could stacked desk chairs take.

The teacher passed us with a "D" so that he wouldn't have to have us in class again.

The joke was on him. I moved to England as soon as the school year was done. I later ran into James in England - he had moved there (to a different air base) a few months after I had gone. There was no chance that teacher would have ever had us as students again.

Fast forward to today. My middle son is studying microbiology at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. He wants to go to medical school and become a doctor. And I, because of my mis-spent youth, am playing catch up. I've always loved science, just sort of missed out on the whole formal training aspect of it (until I got to college). Now, I'm diving in. Heck, the only magazine subscription I have is to Discover Magazine.

So I heard and read a bit about this book and I must say that it's outstanding. Yes, it could use a little bit more depth, but it's a primer, really, a layman's introduction to cells and how they work on the molecular level. Very cool stuff. Some very scary stuff. HIV, for instance, is brutal on the molecular level, snipping out strands of a cells RNA and replacing them with its own, making itself virtually undetectable by the body's defense mechanisms. It's nasty stuff. I learned a lot about how cells work, particularly those in the human body. Did you know that the reason rigor mortis sets in is that the body, upon death, releases calcium from each muscle cell, which causes the muscles to contract. Normally, the living cells would almost instantaneously reabsorb the calcium, causing the muscles to relax, but the reabsorbing mechanism is shut off upon death. The calcium eventually reabsorbs and the body does relax, but only after a while. Or did you realize that the reason spicy foods are used as a sort of folk remedy for colds is because rhinovirus (i.e., the common cold) resides most comfortably in the mouth and nose, where there is not much acidity. Many spicy foods are highly acidic, which breaks down the cell walls of the rhinovirus, exposing its guts to the world, much like my experimental pig.

The illustrations are extremely helpful for me, a visual learner. Now, since I've "seen" how cells work, I can get on with some more specific studies and add some scientific rigor to my studies. Someday, I'd like to take a shot at some DIY biology.

And, in case you're wondering, James and I lost contact a long time ago, but I did find this little bio about him a couple of years ago. Seems he was someone very important on the USS New Orleans, a ship capable of delivering a battalion of 700 fully-armed marines into battle in short order.

If that doesn't scare you, nothing will.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014


PinocchioPinocchio by Winshluss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The other day, at a reading of my novel, Heraclix & Pomp, I was approached by a reader who asked if the book was a children's book. My response was "only if you want to traumatize the child".

I'd like to repeat that same warning about Winshluss's Pinocchio this is not, Not, NOT a children's book! Au contraire, it is very much an adult book. Do not let children crack its pages, as their innocence will flee and never come back. Clear? OK.

This is a corruption clever re-telling of the horrors of the world and mankind's perversities the classic tale of Pinocchio. The artwork is most reminiscent of Robert Crumb's, et al, underground comix of the '60s and '70s. The cynicism is also in the same vein. But there's a lot less reefer and a little more playfulness in these stories within an overall story. Take, for instance, the Jimminy Cockroach subplot, showing the domestic concerns of the insect that inhabits Pinocchio's metal head (oh, did I not mention that Pinocchio is, in reality, a super-killer-robot? My bad.): The style in these subplots and the humor, remind me a great deal of Tony Millionaire's Maakies, but even a touch darker (yes, it's possible). Jimminy is despicable, but somehow Winschluss makes him almost lovable, for a time, anyway. And the blind-beggar turned apocalyptic messiah, while not quite adorable, has his moments of optimism . . . which quickly morph into maniacal plots to destroy large swaths of humanity.

So, if you can handle dark humor, and I mean *very* dark humor, Winschluss's Pinocchio is a . . . "fun" isn't the first word to come to mind, but I'll use it anyway . . . yes, fun read.

But don't say I didn't warn you about this not being a children's book. If you're going to have it in your collection at home, and there is the possibility of a child, any child, spotting the spine of this book through your window, you'd best top-shelf it and get yourself a security system. You do not want to be liable for the damages!

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer

Pinocchio, Vampire SlayerPinocchio, Vampire Slayer by Van Jensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I soured on vampires before vampires were cool, back in the early '90s. But how could I resist picking this up? The premise is amazing, even if you're not a vampire-phile.

The art is wonderful, with a razor-edged Disney feel. The characters were good, but I didn't find myself too vested in any of them. Pinocchio himself has a lot of potential, though, and I'd like to see what is done with him in future volumes. There is a touch of post-modern angst throughout, which could be milked to good effect. What happens when he hits puberty, I wonder? Do I really want to know? In all seriousness, I found Pinocchio to be clever in this work, and I mean that without condemnation. He is an intelligent dark hero, using his lies and the truth to his best advantage. I appreciated this aspect of the book best of all.

My biggest problem with this book had to be the ending. The plot was good throughout, a little rushed here and there, as I've come to expect with most graphic novels, but the ending. Hopefully "Empire Strikes Back" doesn't spoil it too much for you . . .

So if you're really into vampires and puppets and feel like you're in a forgiving mood, or at least one that will allow you to enjoy a derivative plot thread, go for it. If not, I'm not gonna lie to you, you probably won't like it.

There, see? My nose didn't grow at all.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014


FlotsamFlotsam by David Wiesner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A perspective-altering philosophical text cleverly disguised as a children's book! Wiesner, through the use of smart story-boarding, a child's point of view, and a strong dose of whimsy, provides a tale eschewing the need to stay young. But he is not merely pedantic: he shows us *how* to remain young by inserting the reader in the middle of the action, drawing us into the child until we are the child. Then, after unmooring us from our adult concerns through the use of a series of surreal photographs of seascapes and bizarre congeries of sea creatures (including the sea monkeys you remember having been advertised in the backs of comic books as a child - come on, admit it, you ordered some, didn't you?), he teaches us that everything in the world is interconnected. He awes us with not just nature itself, but nature's possibilities. This is not a children's book, it is a guidebook, it is a workbook, it is a bible of the imagination. Learn it, love it, live it.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Bone Clocks

The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I once wrote a novel like this.

My agent wisely advised me to split it up into two novellas.

I did.

I wish Mitchell's agent had given the same advice.

He or she didn't.

Too bad.

It's a tempting trap, this splicing together of novellas. I know, I've been caught in it myself. It makes the writer's job much easier. And it's clever, to boot. In the case of The Bone Clocks, however, this strategy backfired, creating a novel divided against itself.

I'll spare you the plot overview for three reasons: 1) others have already given fantastic overviews (see, particularly, reviews by AmberBug, Jenny (Reading Envy), and Greg). 2) Any plot outline is bound to contain inadvertent spoilers. 3) I'm feeling rather tired from other, writerly projects.

So let's focus on structure and characterization.

The internal schism in the book isn't about plot, anyway. It's about pacing, emphasis, and characterization, more than anything else. The first 2/3rds of the book were, frankly, overwrought. And by that, I don't mean that the language was overly purple or the syntactical structure too complex. In fact, I found quite the opposite. Mitchell was careful to portray salt-of-the-earth characters and jaded characters as if they were almost Jungian archetypes of naive teenagers and hedonistic twenty-somethings, respectively. Mitchell tried really, really hard to get these characterizations across.

Too hard.

You could tell that he was trying.

Time and again, I felt that Mitchell was trying so hard to make his characters - "trendy" or "hip" are the words that come to mind - that they ended up being pastiches of the very ideal for which the author was aiming. They became, in a word, distracting, like that guy who so wants to be the center of attention at a party that he wears a rainbow afro wig. Everyone sees him there, making everyone laugh. But guess who's not going home with the girl?

Now, I've read (and written) my share of annoying and despicable characters. But these characters, by and large, threw me out of the story. Later, when said characters returned (in later sections), I found it extremely difficult to accept them. My brain wanted to reject them, and I found myself becoming angry at the author for having screwed these characters up in an attempt to be "literary".

And there is the biggest structural problem with the book.

In the first 2/3rds, Mitchell seems to be making a conscious effort to appear "literary". I'm not sure why - it's obvious from his previous work that he has writing "chops". I don't know what he was trying to prove, but he tried so hard that he failed. He over-thought the first part of the book. Only in section 3, "The Wedding Bash" does Mitchell's auctorial *voice* sound genuine and natural.

This third section is exceptional, and would have made a brilliant novella by itself. As it stands in relation to the rest of the plot, however, it feels as if it has been awkwardly welded-on to the rest of the novel, weakening the overall product. Really, this section is some of the best writing I've read in a while. Mitchell's got chops . . . in doses.

The next section, "Crispin Hershey's Lonely Planet" is indulgent, and not in a good way. Perhaps I'm missing some hidden humor about Mitchell's experience as a well-known writer. If so, the inside jokes are, well, a little *too* inside. And, like the third section, this bit seems tacked on, hardly relevant, except in a few small points which could have been distilled down to a few pages. In fact, I believe that the first 350 pages of this novel could have been brought down to about 100, and Mitchell would have not only a heck of a novella (in "The Wedding Bash," which I like to call the "Baghdad section"), but a great novel, as well.

Because, you see, it gets better. Much, much better. Had Mitchell not stretched out the first half of the book to three-times the length it should have been(to be fair, the blame might lay with the editor), you'd be reading a five star review. No kidding: The last half-ish of the book is THAT good.

It's in the tale of the Horologists, and beyond, that the author really hits his stride. Here things get weird and exciting, two things which I like very much in a novel. Gone is the pretense of trying to please The New Yorker crowd. The catering to angry teenagers has thankfully died away. And Mitchell reveals that he is a heck of a writer when he lets his hair down, takes off his tie, and gets down to really letting himself fly as a writer.

But, wait. "What", you ask, "is a Horologist"?

I'm not telling. I'll leave it as a surprise. But suffice it to say that once we understand a little bit about them, all hell breaks loose. Really, everything goes crazy. Not just for the characters directly in the path of the immediate action, the ones in a psychic conflict between superhuman beings, but for the whole planet. Now, before you go blaming the Horologists (after all, their organization sounds so . . . prostitutional - which isn't even a word, but you get my point), know that while they are powerful, they are far from all-powerful. They are at the mercy of mankind's collective bad decisions, just like the rest of the world. And while reading the last section of the book might make the reader feel that he is taking a beating from a pedantic stick wielded by Greenpeace, it does set things up for what I must admit is a very emotional ending. I found myself staying up late because I had to finish the book. Mitchell compelled me, by making me viscerally-involved and emotionally-invested in the characters at the end of the book. Finally, finally, I could forget the forced too-cool-to-be-true feeling of the first part of the book and enjoy myself, really let myself get steeped in the characters' thoughts and emotions, and feel their fear, love, and longing in my bones.

Yeah, I had to reach for the tissue. There were tears.

Still, there was a time when I wanted to stop reading the book. And I am not one to stop reading books, no matter how bad. But I was tempted to close this one up and take it to the used book store. Oh, I was sorely tempted. Thankfully, I pushed through and it was just a tiny bit after I peeked over that wall (and it was a big wall), that it got better. Ultimately, it was a victory. But a Pyrrhic victory. I may be recovering from this novel, both the good and the bad parts, for some time to come.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Crazy Forrest is Giving Away More Books!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Heraclix & Pomp by Forrest Aguirre

Heraclix & Pomp

by Forrest Aguirre

Giveaway ends October 03, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 3

The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 3The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 3 by Jonathan Hickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nobody is what they seem, it seems. Fermi isn't human. Daghlian's accident wasn't an accident. Yuri Gagarin isn't nearly as tall as his suit indicates. Einstein is not so gifted as we were led to believe (though he's a bad dude with a chainsaw). And Oppenheimer has a civil war going on in his head.

We're delving into what feels like the second act of the Manhattan Projects story, where commotion and chaos rules. There are a lot of open ends here: Did the alien drone successfully contact its hive? What's to happen to the project now that General Westmoreland's in charge? And what the heck is that thing approaching Laika's ship? I'm very, very curious to see the next installment.

Not quite as bizarre as Vol. 1, not quite as . . . vast is the word that comes to mind . . . as Vol. 2, Vol. 3 still continues in the same utterly fantastic vein. The Manhattan Projects still reigns over my graphic novel world as the series that, hand-in-hand with Brubaker's Fatale series, has me very excited about the current state of graphic novels.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Heraclix & Pomp Hardcover Photos

Here is the physical artifact of Heraclix & Pomp. It's beautiful. Unfortunately my photographic skills could make Helen of Troy look average. Having the camera face the user on the Google Nexus doesn't help, so I apologize for all the weird angles. Don't get lost!

Front Cover

Front Cover in the nude

Naked binding, with glare for decency's sake

End papers. Darin told me they were gorgeous. He was right. The camera does not do the deep, rich color justice.

Title page. Those metal dice holding the page down were part of my oldest son's birthday present this year. He knows me too well.

A quote by Hermes Trismegistus. If you can't read it, you'll need to turn up your scrying stone. Or have a familiar read it for you.

My favorite picture of the book, for reasons that will only become apparent when you read the book. Note the numbers on the dice. Note them well. They're important!

With huge thanks to my friend +Daniel Nicholson for taking the author photo. Dan, you rock!

Again, note the numbers on the dice . . .

Finally, the back cover. A work of art in and of itself.

There you have it. The nickel tour through the book. Now, if you want your own copy of the hardcover, you can preorder it from your local independent bookstore, Powells.com, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon

Special thanks to Claudia Noble and Mark Teppo for creating this thing of beauty.

If you'd like to "try before you buy," you can listen to the first chapter for free! Enjoy!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Star Wars

The Star WarsThe Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Somewhere, deep inside of me, a piece of an eight-year-old boy died a horrible death. This is a graphic novelization of George Lucas' original rough-draft screenplay for what would eventually become Star Wars. Now, the eight-year-old me that originally saw the movie might actually have liked this version, given the intense action sequences and . . . and . . . *SOB!* - this book is a hot mess!

Do not read this graphic novel if you are looking for:

1) Good dialogue.
2) Clear differentiation between characters.
3) Familiar names associated with familiar faces - "Biggs," for example, is one of a pair of twin brothers of Princes Leia. "Darth Vader" is not a lord of the Sith and, in fact, the Sith knight presented in this story (view spoiler). Confused yet?
4) Love stories that make sense, with real motives and reasons behind their unquenchable love.
5) Nostalgia.
6) Reasons not to cry because of the Lucas sellout (of which this might be the most damning piece of evidence).

Do read this graphic novel if you are looking for:

1) Confusion.
2) A shattering of your childhood memories.
3) Clear indicators that Lucas had a lot of editorial help with the original movie.
4) A way to regurgitate that cleaning agent you accidentally swallowed.

That said, there was some pretty cool art. And it was interesting to try (not too hard, now) to figure out how this turd was polished into the final movie. For the academic interest, I'm pushing this up to two stars being held onto by a fraying fingernail clipping while dangling over the edge of the abyss.

This book provides clear evidence that you should never, NEVER publish a rough draft, even if a later version of the work was something special. Oh, that I wish Lucas would have followed Kafka's lead in manuscript preservation. I hope that there is a place, an alternate universe, perhaps, where Lucas and Kafka switched roles, with Lucas destroying all of his old manuscripts and Kafka preserving his, maybe some place that really exists:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .
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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Heraclix & Pomp free Audiobook sample

Please enjoy this free Audiobook sample of Heraclix & Pomp! You can pre-order the full audiobook here. Or, if you prefer E-book format, you can pre-order either the Nook or Kindle version. Finally, for those who, like me, love the heft of a genuine paper book, you can pre-order the hardcover at your favorite local bookseller, Powells.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or Amazon.com.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Last Day to Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Heraclix & Pomp!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Heraclix & Pomp by Forrest Aguirre

Heraclix & Pomp

by Forrest Aguirre

Giveaway ends September 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Deadpool Killustrated

Deadpool KillustratedDeadpool Killustrated by Cullen Bunn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The world's biggest superhero-killing douchebag is back, this time to eliminate your favorite characters of classic literature from the "Ideaverse". Not satisfied with killing off all the Marvel superheroes, Deadpool sets off to kill the very nascent idea of a superhero from the psyche of the universe in his striving to find and kill "The Progenitors" in an effort to end his eternal torment. The string of homocidal ultraviolence is . . . well, pretty funny, actually. But there's an aspect of this graphic (and I do mean graphic!) novel that tickles the intellect, as well, an existential question that is left unanswered, but on which the entire fate of reality rests: can Deadpool ever *really* die? This question emerges from the midst of the crimson-splattered chaos, and provides a nice foil to all the killing and admittedly hilarious madness of Deadpool himself. This is the sort of thing that philosophies can be built on, or at least it's good grist for some philosophy student's senior thesis. It's not quite PhD material, but neither is Deadpool. Still, there's a lot of thinking to do in the midst of all the craziness, an island of "what if?" amidst the "who cares?" It is a delicious little conundrum, worth your time and your brain, or perhaps a piece of Deadpool's self-regenerating brain.

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Spritzerville,…Ohio?Spritzerville,…Ohio? by Jason R. Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seems like you're using more than your fair share of Rs in your name. Just know that these things are not going unnoticed.

-The Vowel Laden-

This was the grave warning on the envelope in which the book Spritzerville,...Ohio? arrived. Nevermind the fact that the title contains more punctuation than a child's cursive primer. The left-handed and (self-admitted) "naturally pompous" Jason R. Koivu supposedly penned this tale, but I have my doubts. I think it much more likely that this was "ghostwritten" by the departed soul of P.G. Wodehouse himself. Or, at least, that said Koivu channeled the erstwhile English humorist while writing the book. Lemony Snicket might have also been present in the room, in ectoplasmic form or otherwise, so far as I can tell, at least for the last tale of the book, which is, to be blunt, downright spooky.

Now, who is the audience for such an odd writer about such an odd town as Spritzerville? Well, if you are looking for high culture, you will kindly sod off. If you seek the deeply philosophical, you are bound to be disappointed, but you will likely be disappointed by anything you read, regardless of how well-researched or well-presented such a treatise might be and . . . oh, just go bugger yourself.

If, however, you are looking for laughs - not stupid laughs, mind you, but the smart kind, the kind with hidden messages by Megadeth, the kind with awful alliteration of the intentional kind, a work seething with mutant pastries, vampiric senior citizens, and gaseous toads, and a book with potty-humor elevated by clever turns of phrase and punny wit, then this is your book. Yes, even stoic old me (or is it "I"?) found myself laughing aloud and having to explain myself to bystanders. I recommended the book, highly, and I do so now, to you . . . I recommend this book highly.

See what I did there?

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Incidents in the Night: Volume 1

Incidents in the Night: Volume 1Incidents in the Night: Volume 1 by David B.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's complicated.

I looked at Incidents in the Night: Volume 1 from afar and thought I liked what I saw. The book smiled at me, and I think it might have winked, too. But that might just have been the lighting in this dark place. I made my way closer, slowly, asking a few of my friends what they thought of it. It seems that a lot of people admired it, maybe even felt something much stronger than admiration. A few gave me dark looks, as if I was an idiot for asking, though I'm not sure whether these looks askance were meant to warn me or to show jealousy that I would dare approach such a prize. Finally, after some internal debate, I screwed up my courage and went in close.

Maybe it was the mole on the book's face, maybe a bit of a cold streak in its eyes, I don't know. Something just didn't set right with me. I could see how many would be fascinated by it, even physically attracted in a strong way. But my sense of . . . art, I think it was, yes, my sense of art prevented me from engaging in anything more than casual conversation. I just knew that if I got too involved, I would regret it. Yet still, still . . .

The dreamlike sense of something hidden just around the corner was titillating. And I appreciated the quirky sense of dress in the details, though the overall picture didn't really appeal to my sense of style. But again, there was something behind the eyes, something . . . hidden . . . maybe a slightly-veiled agenda, that bespoke danger.

We talked, we shared an uncomfortable laugh, we drank our drinks and looked around the room. I thanked it for its time, white-lied my way out of the conversation with an "it was nice to talk with you," and walked away. Just walked away.

I still just don't know . . .

It's complicated.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

I'm Giving Away Heraclix & Pomp Again!!! Come and Get It!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Heraclix & Pomp by Forrest Aguirre

Heraclix & Pomp

by Forrest Aguirre

Giveaway ends September 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Waltz With Bashir: A Lebanon War Story

Waltz With Bashir: A Lebanon War StoryWaltz With Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As the current ('14) conflict rages on in Gaza, I am reminded that, in this war, there are only victims. This is also true of the Lebanon conflict of the early '80s, which is the subject of this graphic novel. Yes, there are aggressors, mostly politicians who already enjoy power, goading on the common men and women who actually fight the wars. But on the ground level, where the fighting itself is taking place, there are only victims, regardless of who "wins" the conflict. That's not to take away responsibility for those who commit atrocities like the slaughter of unarmed, innocent Lebanese civilians by "Christian" forces loyal to the then-recently-assassinated Bashir Jumayel, President of Lebanon. Of course, justice must be served against killers. There is no excuse for their actions. But that doesn't mean that when the executioner's axe rightfully falls on them, if it ever did or ever will, that they weren't also victims of those in power over them.

And what of the Israeli soldiers who witnessed the massacre? Are they not to blame for not having stopped the slaughter earlier? Of course. But, as Waltz With Bashir makes apparent, even they are partially punished by the haunting nightmares, the psychological damage of having witnessed what they witnessed and not having done what was necessary to stop it. Perhaps your idea of justice is that these soldiers should swing from the noose for holding off when they could have intervened. But if they had intervened, in a time of war, against orders, they would likely have swung from a noose anyway, for being traitors to the aims of those in power over them. Would that have further satisfied your sense of justice? Would it? Really?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Each person has to decide for him or herself what is "just" and who to blame for such terrible things. Should political leaders hang for decisions that lead to such slaughter? How exactly does one pin the blame for such things? Who gets to decide? Who is the judge? Is it enough to suffer psychological trauma for the sins one has committed, or must lives be paid for at the cost of more lives?

The lines between who is good and who is evil are muddled by the fog of war. The only thing that is certain is that everyone pays the price of aggression. Everyone who is in an area of violence, whether belligerent or innocent, is, in some sense, a victim.

There are no easy answers.

But if you want to explore the questions posed above, Waltz With Bashir is a good place to start. It's not likely to change your mind about anything in regards to the ongoing conflict between Israel and its neighbors, but it will cause you to pause and think. And maybe that pause will be long enough to stop and at least consider the consequences and gravity of such conflicts, to consider the effect on *everyone* involved. Maybe a minute or two, within which peace can get a toehold, if nothing else.

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The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other StoriesThe Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories by H.P. Lovecraft & Jason Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first encountered the artwork of Jason Thompson through a poster he created for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess role-playing game. I was immediately struck by the simplicity of his central figure, the "mock man," set against the finely-honed detail work one sees in his settings, costume, and creatures. His work is truly unique, cartoonish, but compelling. So when I first saw the cover of his hardbound The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories, I knew it wouldn't be long before I procured a copy. I was filled with that sort of book-lust that only true book lovers know. I obsessed a bit.

And I am not disappointed.

This volume contains stories from what has come to be known as Lovecraft's "Dreamlands" cycle: "The White ship," "Celephais," "The Strange High House in the Mist," and the eponymous novella "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," as well as a series of drawings from Thompson's sketch book. Thompson stays faithful to the original stories, but adds an easter egg or two in a touch of whimsy, such as a moment when Randolph Carter is telling Pickman's ghouls that he must take his leave of them to continue his search for Kadath: the ghoul to his left says "Oh, Carter, please don't go!" and the one to his right says "We'll eat you up, we love you so!"

If you don't get that reference, it's time for you to hit the children's books again.

Despite this and a couple of other dalliances, Thompson stays true to Lovecraft's plots, characters and, for the most part, rich descriptions. Unlike many illustrated versions of Lovecraft's work, Thompson's artwork actually does reflect the very words that Lovecraft used. The work is bound together aurally and visually; a rare thing, indeed. The lush illustrations are sometimes only evocative of the wonders and horrors Lovecraft created, allowing the reader's imagination to fill in details that are out of sight just beyond the frame of the picture itself. This leads to a sense of anticipation and sometimes dread that pulls the reader in. It is as much what is not seen, but hinted at, that provides enticement to the intellect. Or, as it is said, "It's not the kill, it's the thrill of the chase".

A thrilling chase, indeed. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Buy a copy here and support Thompson so he can continue to produce such wonderful art and books. He's just whetted my appetite with this volume. I want more, and more, and more.

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